With the coming elections, there will be a lot of rhetoric thrown around. Given that there will be a push to mobilize a conservative base, a lot of rhetoric will be aimed at entitlement programs. Their main method of attack is to go after the recipients of these programs, perpetuating the popular myth of these programs building dependence and welfare queens. If you just give people money, as the myth goes, they will have no incentive to go out and work.
This assertion is actually not accurate. I’m not saying that there aren’t parasites out there, but they infect every level of the economic strata even among the very rich (as the recent banking/mortgage debacle has shown). But what is untrue is the claim that welfare breeds dependence and these slackers. In fact most people who go onto welfare are usually off within 2 years, showing that people are using welfare for what it is intended to do: provide temporary assistance. But beyond facts and figures there is a sound psychological reason why this is all a myth: Slacking goes against human nature.
Enter Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. People, you see, are not just behavioral machines who need the basics of food water and shelter. With the advent of intelligence, we have become entities ensouled with the needs of esteem and self-actualization. People need to be productive members of a community, they need to develop their talents and skills, and they to apply those skills in a life’s work.
So if the need to engage in a life’s work is natural, then being a slacker is actually a sign of illness. From experience, if you look at the “slackers” the illness becomes apparent. Those who seem to say “why bother” are burnt out, demoralized, or depressed. Others who seem more reclusive or even highly reactive are often anxious or even traumatized. The high correlation that people often see between drug use and non-productivity is actually not about recreational use, but more about self-medication. In short, the problems of productivity do not lie in the world of incentives, but in world of mental health.
Entitlement programs, then, don’t breed dependence because such dependence is simply contrary to human nature. Rather, people become non-productive when they are suffering from other illnesses, like anxiety or depression. Since most people use entitlement programs responsibly and in the short term, there is every reason to continue them. But if you are truly concerned about problems of dependence and non-productivity, you need to also address the illnesses that cause them, and not simply abandon the suffering.